Author’s Note: This review was originally published on September 7th, 2006. For some reason, most reviews of 2006 have this arrogant tone to them, but this one for Digital Devil Saga might be the most arrogant. I remember writing the second-to-last paragraph in an attempt to prove something. There wasn’t anything to prove, and the people that it was directed towards have, likely, stopped gaming.
Digital Devil Saga was my introduction into the Shin Megami Tensei (MegaTen) series. Considering that DDS was a more traditional RPG than the other games in this cult series, I find myself wondering how more obscure and difficult other MegaTen games can get. Well, enough of my introduction about my introduction to the series, we are here to focus on Digital Devil Saga. After playing the game from start to finish and wrapping up some of the game’s tedious side quests, I view the game with a very mixed feeling. All in all, however, I enjoyed the game because the good out-shined the bad.
The story of Digital Devil Saga takes place in the world called Junkyard. Various tribes fight against each other in the hopes of coming out on top. The last tribe alive will ascend to Nirvana. This Junkyard war has been going on for countless years, and the tribes are in a stale mate at the current time. Players follow the Embryon tribe and their leader, Serph. During an attack on the Vanguards, a mysterious egg appears in the middle of a battlefield. After the egg hatches, light beams scatter throughout the entire Junkyard, causing all the tribes to have the ability to turn into powerful demons. However, with power comes a price; the demons need to eat each other in order to remain sane. That’s right…they need to devour their foes. Also emerging from the egg was a girl named Sera. Sera has amnesia, but her lost memories may be the only key to discovering just what the hell is going on. Who is Sera? What powers does she hold? How long will the fighting continue? All of these questions and more will be answered, while at the same time more questions will come to fruition.
From the get-go, DDS draws you in with it’s dark, gruesome, and macabre story telling in the waste land world of Junkyard. The Junkyard itself is home to some Indian mythology references, which will definitely add some excitement to the plot. Whenever the story continued to unfold, I would be glued to the screen. Not only was the setting of DDS amazing, the characters were as well. Serph may play the silent protagonist, but you can choose what he says during many of the story events. Also, his fellow tribe members Heat, Argilla, Gale, and Cielo have plenty to say and plenty to reveal about themselves. The same can be said about the mysterious Sera, and the key members of the rival tribes. Everyone in this game has a unique personality and totally helps bring the world of DDS to life. This story is on the very dark side, so chances are you will rarely laugh as you see everyone endure a cannibalistic urge to eat each other. This didn’t bother me in the slightest.
Another thing that didn’t bother me in the slightest was the game’s gorgeous visuals. MegaTen artist Kazuma Kaneko designed some of the most beautiful, unique characters and monsters to ever grace a console. If you think the characters look great, you should see their bizarre and sometimes disgusting demon forms. I mean, one of the characters has talking breasts! Every dungeon, corridor and circumstance was given exceptional detail that allows the player to be truly drawn into the world of DDS.
Worthy of the same high praise is the sound and music. The game unfolds in fully voiced dialogue by a worthy cast. Not once will you be laughing at corny voice acting. Instead, you will be pleased to listen to a credited combination of voice talent. Other sounds, such as the monsters perishing or the zap of a powerful lightning bolt were done equally well. The music was downright rocking. The mixture of electric guitars, drums, and piano come together to make an amazing sound track. I highly recommend looking for the full OST to the game. Those of you lucky enough to snag up the game new will be able to get the OST for free. Even if you aren’t that lucky, still look for the OST containing haunting dungeon music, fast paced battle tracks and so many more great songs.
I keep going on and on about all the great things in this game. I guess it’s time to start bringing out the dirty laundry and say what the bad stuff is, right? Well, there are two things. Since I covered story, graphics, and music that just leaves the game play and one other thing, but that last part will be covered at the end. The game play is a mixed bag. There is good and bad. Sometimes the good is bad and the bad is good. Sometimes it’s all bad and sometimes it’s all good. It just really depends on the situation. Like most RPGs, the game play involves you walking around towns or dungeon crawling, the latter causing you to get into battles. The “towns” consist of shops and people to talk with. One cool feature is that your party members hang around the town and have something to say about the events going on. Town walking is short lived, however. The majority of the game takes place in dungeons. Very, very, very long dungeons.
I am well aware I wrote very three times, and a part of me wants to add eight more. No joke people, the dungeons are seemingly endless and some are riddled with annoying puzzles. Granted, there were plenty of save spots in the dungeons, it still gets annoying when you continue to trek through the same dungeon for hours on end, especially when the puzzles are frustrating. Probably the worst thing about the long dungeons, however, is that you get into a random battle very easily. I’m talking like you take two steps and you enter a new battle. Luckily, most of the battles are quick…if you prepare properly. If you come with the right skills and magic equipped, battles take as little as five seconds. The key to surviving in this game is preparation. On the one hand, it adds new levels of strategy to an otherwise dull, turn-based battle system. On the other hand, it’s frustrating beyond belief getting you party killed in a few turns because a foe charged up an attack, casts a death-all spell, charms your team, repels your attacks, or hits you with powerful magic (just to name a few examples).
As I said, the battle system it turn-based. One side attacks and then the other side attacks. It sounds like a typical button mashing game, but that is totally false. If you hit an enemy with its weakness, critically attack it physically, or block an attack with a spell shield, you gain an extra turn. However, the enemies can do the same to your party. Battles can take a turn for the worst in the blink of an eye if you are not prepared properly. You think that’s bad? Try some of the game’s tough boss battles! While I was able to get by fine for most of the game without a strategy guide, near the end I was so fed up with constantly getting into fights and getting hit hard by powerful boss attacks, I referred to a FAQ for quick and easy enemy killing tips. I did enjoy the battle system for the most part because of how quickly battles ended and how you can lay waste to your enemies with the right attacks. However, it gets tedious doing the same thing over and over, and it gets annoying always having to cast a protection spell so your team doesn’t die in a matter of seconds. So, you may be asking, how do you learn these powerful spells and skills, anyways? The answer is from mantras.
Mantras are basically skill sets that you equip from a save spot. When you gain enough AP from a battle, you learn the skills attached to the mantra. The bad thing about the mantra system is that it follows a very linear path and learning the higher leveled mantras costs you mad amounts of money. Otherwise, however, the mantra system was a super fun way to learn new skills. While there are both physical and magical attacks you can learn, the game basically requires you to learn magic attacks because most of the enemies are weak to magic; not physical attacks. This comes as a downer because the cool, powerful physical attacks come off as worthless.
Other features that the game has are magic combos, magic items, and a plethora of ways to customize your characters as you see fit. As mentioned, there are good and bad things when it comes to playing DDS, and these can often become intertwined with each other. When all was said and done after my 30 hours of playing, I was satisfied with the game. There were various side quests to try, but that required going back through the entire final dungeon again, and that was a no-no for me. Once you complete the game, you are able to keep all of the mantras you learned. This adds a great level of replay value because by the time you finish your second play through, you can have all of the spells mastered! Also, finishing the game once unlocks a bonus battle that will make all Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne players point and say, “Hey! It’s him!” I may go back once again to get all of the mantras, re-live some of the story points, and attempt some of the side-quests I didn’t finish, but it won’t be for a long time, especially considering how Digital Devil Saga 2 is out now.
Before I wrap this review up, I have to say the second bad thing about DDS: it’s fan-base. Most of the followers of the MegaTen series have this elitist attitude about themselves, and this causes the series to get a bad name. These people are constantly bad-mouthing other RPGs because, “They don’t do this like they do in a MegaTen game!” DDS is no exception to this rule. How it got this reputation is beyond me, however part of the reason why I decided to stay away from Digital Devil Saga until now was because of being associated with the arrogant jerks that played it. You people know who you are. Am I complaining? Yes, but I’m allowed to because that’s what humans do.
Well, enough of that rant. Digital Devil Saga is a game that, despite its annoying, hard-core followers and sometimes broken game play, you should not miss. I found my copy new, but in this day and age having that same luck will be more difficult. Even if you find it used, still pick the game up because the story is amazing, and it has some of the best graphics and music an RPG can offer. At times, the game play is super fun and the battles are both fast and intense. It is by no means the RPG to end all RPGs, no matter what the MegaTen junkies say, but it is still an RPG that you should check out.